Death as a faux pas

When A.E. Housman was born, writes Dalrymple,

at least a quarter of children died before the age of five, and one in six before he was 12 months old. Housman’s much-loved mother died when he was 12, and her death caused him to lose his religious belief. Death was not then the best-kept secret of life, as it is now, hidden away out of sight as a kind of social faux pas, or locked away from view as mad relatives once were, but an ever-present reality that could result from a trivial accident or seemingly minor illness. In fact, it would have taken a special kind of obtuseness not to have noticed the fragility of the human hold on life.

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